It was, she remembered, the first standing ovation she ever received as a librarian.
Laura Fleming was working at an elementary school in River Edge, New Jersey, a tiny, suburban school district across the river from Manhattan. It was 2009, she’d been working in education for 12 years, and she’d long been searching for books that would engage her students. But each fall, it seemed, they arrived less interested in the books she loved.
Fleming often felt like a stand-up comedian in a smoky nightclub. “You have that go-to joke that always gets the crowd going,” she said with a laugh. But all of a sudden, her material wasn’t working. The crowd was silent. The books fell flat.
So, she began searching for something different. She found a series of young adult novels called Skeleton Creek that embedded Internet URLs into the plot—the links took readers to a series of jittery, handheld Blair Witch-style videos, seemingly shot by the protagonists. The videos moved the story along nicely, but mostly they terrified young readers.
Then Fleming found Inanimate Alice.
Created by the British novelist Kate Pullinger and British-Canadian multimedia artist Chris Joseph, Alice is a book that blinks, buzzes, hums, sings, jitterbugs, plays games, and, on occasion, rains and snows. Using her laptop, Fleming projected the first Alice story onto a library whiteboard … and her fifth-graders went nuts. The story was immersive like little else, the first piece of fiction that helped them see life through a character’s eyes. A few students approached her afterwards to thank her, tears glistening in their eyes.
Welcome to the brave new world of reading: the clickable, interactive future of books. Just as digital technology is transforming people’s work, social lives, and family ties, it’s naturally transforming the slow, solitary act of reading. Think beyond paper versus pixels—this technology cuts to the very core of what it means to read a book.